Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (10:31): On behalf of the union movement in Australia, tiny though it is, I want to thank Senator Chisholm for his defence of union bosses and trying to protect the privileged position that those union bosses enjoy, using the levies of their workers, given by the workers to the unions for serious matters, but we find those levies ending up in brothels, being spent on holidays or being used for real estate purchases by union officials. Senator Chisholm says that this debate on the Building and Construction Industry (Improving Productivity) Bill is about safety, it is about looking after workers. It is about neither. It is not about bringing back Work Choices, as Labor speakers would have us believe—it is about productivity for our nation; it is about giving people a fair go. It is about helping workers to achieve what they want to achieve in a free, open and bully-free marketplace.
Senator Chisholm spoke on behalf of the union movement, and well he would—his career has been as an official of the Australian Labor Party, who are funded entirely by the union movement. Without the union movement the Labor Party would not exist and Senator Chisholm would not have been able to be state secretary for a while; he would not have been able to be the campaign director for the Labor Party. We should always remember when talking about the union movement—I mentioned it was tiny—that ABS statistics show that no more than 11 per cent of workers in the private sector choose to join a union. You would think, listening to Senator Chisholm and others who will no doubt follow him, that the union movement is this great body that looks after the interests of workers—but only 11 per cent of workers in private industry choose to join a union, which means that 89 per cent of workers in the private sector choose not to join a union, because they see what the unions have done to our country and they see that people who even used to be members of this parliament, after they were union officials, have ripped off the workers' money. That is why 89 per cent of workers in the private sector choose not to be in a union.
If you take it across the board, only 17 per cent of all workers in Australia, including government sector workers, choose to join their union. That means 83 per cent of workers in Australia make the decision not to join a union, and they seem to get on okay with their safety issues. They seem to not be worried about this government bringing in Work Choices again. When you hear Labor Party people speak, you have to understand that they are wholly-owned property of the union movement, and they are fighting a life-and-death struggle to maintain the privileged position of some of the union bosses.
As of October this year, 113 CFMEU officials were before the courts for more than 1,100 suspected contraventions. In recent years the courts have imposed more than $8 million in fines for the CFMEU's breaches of industrial law—and, if time permits later on, I will go through some of those particular cases. So I am often absolutely amazed that Senator Wong, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, refuses to condemn the CFMEU's, but then I recall that she worked for the CFMEU before she came to this parliament.
These cases are not stories; they are court records. These are not political comments. These are comments of the judiciary, which indicate the sort of notorious category these unions have for noncompliance with the law. A federal court judge said of the CFMEU that they ought to be an embarrassment to the trade union movement. They certainly are an embarrassment to most Australians.
But I do want to get on and talk about some aspects of the bill. The important part about this bill is the cost to our economy. When the ABCC was last in power, before the time of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd government, the rate of industrial disputes was five times the average across all industries—that is, the rate of industrial disputes in the building industry were five times the average across all industries. During the time that the ABCC was in operation, disputes fell to just two times the average. On average since the ABCC's subsequent abolition, disputes have gone back up to five times the average across all disputes.
I am Queensland senator. We are very proud about the Commonwealth Games coming to the Gold Coast region. But, at the rate industrial disputes are going on the building sites, we will not be ready for the Commonwealth Games when they are due. It disturbs me greatly as an Australian senator and as a Queenslander that this union thuggery is putting at risk the Commonwealth Games. Again, if time permits, I will give you some examples of that later on.
After the ABCC was abolished in 2012—and who do you imagine was in charge of industrial relations at the time? Mr Bill Shorten, the current leader of the Labor Party—the rate of disputes in the construction sector increased by some 40 per cent. You can say what you like about statistics, but that increase of 40 per cent, with the abolition of the ABCC, is just mind-boggling. The rate of industrial action in the construction sector is now nine times higher than the average across all industries for the June quarter. The source of that is the ABS. Currently, two out of every three working days lost are lost due to industrial disputes in the construction industry—again, these are not Liberal Party allegations; these are the Australian Bureau of Statistics' actual figures. Infrastructure like schools and hospitals costs taxpayers up to 30 per cent more because of the extraordinary amount of working days lost due to industrial action at building sites.
Again, figures and statistics run off the tongue easily, but this is taxpayers' money invested by various governments around the country in schools and hospitals, but instead of costing $100 million it is costing $130 million. That is taxpayers' money that is being wasted because of industrial disputes. The economic impact of this lawlessness in the building and construction industry costs every single taxpayer in Australia real money.
I just want to again refer to the previous speaker in this debate, Senator Chisholm, who was making derogatory—and, I thought, unparliamentary—remarks about the royal commission that exposed so much union corruption. He said it cost $60 million. That is a lot of money, but can I just remind senators and those who might be listening to this debate that, thanks to Labor's reckless spending during the six years that we had Labor as a government, we are now paying $30 million a day in interest on money that Labor borrowed overseas. This royal commission was expensive, but it cost two days' interest that we are paying on the debt that Labor ran up in its six years in government. These things need to be kept in perspective.
The purpose of the bill is to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission that was in place from 2005 to 2012 until such time as the unions imposed upon Mr Shorten to abolish that commission. Why did they impose upon him to abolish it? Because it was interfering with the rorts and rip-offs, that particularly the CFMEU were involved in, in the construction industry. Labor did replace that with a much weaker building regulator, Fair Work Building and Construction, but their much weaker—and less telling than the ABCC that we are trying to reintroduce—maximum penalties for breaching the laws were cut by two-thirds. The fair work commission has no power to enforce the law when affected parties—for example, a building company and a union—have entered into a settlement. You know what they are about and, if time permits, I will give you some examples of that later. The ABCC's compulsory powers were retained, but are now subject to a sunset clause and will expire on 30 June next year, and there is no effective building code to regulate employer contact.
The ABCC bill will restore penalties to their former levels. These penalties will still be substantially lower than the equivalent penalties under equivalent legislation such as the Corporations Act and the Competition and Consumer Act, but, still, they are more in line with the seriousness of offences. The new bill will remove the inability of the law to be enforced where private 'settlements' occur. Under the current legislation, if an employer and a union settle any related civil dispute between them, even for a nominal sum, the fair work commission has no power to bring the proceedings or to continue any proceedings to enforce the law. This is like the police having no power to prosecute a driver for running a red light and causing a crash if the driver reaches a private settlement with the other driver. It takes away the law and allows these 'settlements' to take place.
The bill will also introduce an effective building code to be made as a legislative instrument under the act. This will impose a range of requirements on employers in the building industry. This does not apply to unions or employees; it is totally directed at employers. These requirements must be met by an employer that wishes to tender for Commonwealth funded building work and these include compliance with all relevant laws—workplace, taxation, safety and immigration. It seems from the previous speaker that Labor do not understand this. This building code will have a real enforcement on employers to do the right thing and comply with the law in relation to workplace laws, taxation, safety—I emphasise safety—and immigration; all of those issues. Companies will not get Commonwealth government work if they do not comply with this building code, which sets out very strict relations involving safety, among others. Employers who breach any of these legal requirements—for example, by underpaying employees, breaching safety requirements or employing staff who do not have valid work visas—risk being declared ineligible to work on projects funded by the Commonwealth government. The code will also protect smaller subcontractors from unfair practices by head contractors.
As I said, there are currently 100 or more CFMEU officials before the courts. The courts have imposed more than $8 million in fines for the CFMEU's law breaking. It does not seem to deter the CFMEU. They just levy their workers a little bit extra, so that they can pay those $8 million in fines. The fines, as they currently are, do not seem to deter the CFMEU at all, and that is why there is a need to increase the penalties.
The previous speaker, Senator Chisholm, spoke at some length on safety. There is not an Australian who does not want to see other Australians safe at their workplaces. This bill does not amend any workplace safety laws—in spite of what Labor speakers would have you believe. The ABCC legislation will not prevent legitimate safety issues being raised or addressed by employees, unions or health and safety regulators. The rate of construction industry deaths has been trending down for the past decade from 5.8 per 100,000 workers in 2003 to three per 100,000 workers in 2014. Even one is one too many. But to suggest that this bill will lessen safety standards is ridiculous and another part of the union scare campaign.
I will conclude with an example of the CFMEU thuggery that this bill is trying to address. In 2014, two Fair Work inspectors attended the Ibis hotel construction site in Adelaide, at the request of the site manager, to investigate possible right-of-entry violations. A number of CFMEU officials were at the Ibis hotel site at the time of the inspection. In the presence of the inspectors, the site manager asked the CFMEU officials to show their right-of-entry permits. No permits were produced by the CFMEU officials. One of the inspectors took photographs of the CFMEU officials and their interactions with the site manager.
A CFMEU official, who has been named in this parliament before, Mr Perkovic, approached the inspector, stood in front of him, pushed him and made a number of threatening comments, including, 'You effing maggot, what are you taking a photo of me for, you piece of'—S something something something.' Further: 'You effing coward, I'll effing take you to school. Your a effing piece of'—something beginning with S. Further: 'You effing piece of S. You're going to have a heart attack. Look at you, you're excreting yellow, you piece of S.' That is just one example. I have pages, but time is not going to let me go through them.
There is lawlessness in the construction industry and it is costing each and every taxpayer money. It is not about safety; it is about retaining the privileged position of some union leaders. I repeat: the unions only speak for 11 per cent of workers in the Australian industry framework. This bill is essential to bringing law and order back into the building and construction industry and to getting rid of the rorts and rip-offs that are costing taxpayers real money, money that could be diverted to hospitals, schools and other infrastructure. It is essential that this bill be endorsed. I know the Labor Party will never support it, and neither will the Greens, who are recipients are big donations from the unions, but I would hope the crossbenchers understand the absolute importance of having law returned to the building and construction industry.